Photo/IllutrationFinance Minister Taro Aso responds to questions at a June 4 news conference after the Finance Ministry released the results of its investigation into the falsification of documents related to the sale of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen. (Shinnosuke Ito)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s assertion of having absolutely no involvement in a dubious land deal was the trigger for discarding Finance Ministry documents related to the transaction, according to an internal investigation.

The ministry announced the results of its investigation on June 4 as well as disciplinary measures against 20 officials involved in falsifying the documents connected to the sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen at a sharp discount.

Although the results point the finger largely at Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was director-general of the Finance Ministry’s Financial Bureau when the documents were falsified, Abe will likely face harsh questioning from opposition parties.

Following the June 4 announcement by the Finance Ministry, Abe told reporters that he felt strong responsibility as the head of the administrative branch.

“We will thoroughly review the management of public documents and implement measures to prevent a recurrence,” Abe said. He added that he wanted Finance Minister Taro Aso to play a leading role in coming up with those measures, indicating he was intending to ask Aso to remain in his post.

The prime minister has said in the Diet that the falsification and discarding of official documents was not related in any way to his past responses concerning his involvement in the Moritomo Gakuen land deal.

But the investigation found that ministry officials began discarding documents after Abe strenuously denied any involvement by either himself or his wife, Akie, in the Moritomo Gakuen deal. He went so far as to stake his political career on that claim.

The investigation found that Sagawa had set “the direction for discarding and falsifying” the documents.

He was given a disciplinary measure equivalent to a three-month suspension from work. But since Sagawa retired from the ministry in March, the measure will be implemented through a reduction of his severance pay.

Aso has also agreed to return a year’s worth of his salary as minister, but he said at a June 4 news conference that he had no intention of stepping down.

According to the ministry investigation, Sagawa on Feb. 27, 2017, was told about an official document regarding the sale of the state-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, to Moritomo Gakuen that mentioned inquiries made by individuals with close ties to lawmakers.

Sagawa said the document could “not be released to the public as is,” and his subordinates took that comment as an indication that the document would have to be revised, according to the investigation.

The investigation also found that Sagawa gave instructions to his subordinates, such as Minoru Nakamura, who headed the Financial Bureau’s Planning and Administration Division, to look directly into the matter without leaving it in charge of officials at the local level.

The investigation found that the documents were discarded around the same time Abe told the Diet on Feb. 17, 2017, that he would resign as prime minister and a Diet member if it turned out either he or his wife were involved with the Moritomo Gakuen transaction.

On Feb. 24, 2017, Sagawa said in the Diet that documents pertaining to the transaction were no longer available in the ministry.

Sagawa subsequently reminded Nakamura to be thorough about document management. The investigation found that Nakamura took that as an instruction to discard records of the transaction.

In conclusion, according to the investigation, Sagawa made the decisions that set the course for discarding and falsifying records of whom Finance Ministry officials met with in relation to the Moritomo Gakuen deal.

The investigation found that Sagawa could not avoid holding overall responsibility for the questionable actions taken by ministry officials regarding the documents.

Nakamura was also found to have played a central role because he was the closest subordinate to Sagawa. Nakamura was suspended from work for one month.

The investigation found that officials at the Kinki Local Finance Bureau were instructed to falsify and discard the documents by officials at the Finance Ministry in Tokyo.

The bureau handled the negotiations with Moritomo Gakuen officials over the land deal.